Wrapping up summer projects

After a hot, dry summer growing season in Montana, the samples have all been collected and the crop harvested for my project investigating wheat production under farming system (organic vs. conventional), climate change (hot or hot and dry), disease (wheat streak virus), and weed competition (cheatgrass) conditions.  We collected wheat and weed biomass from every subplot, totaling 108 bags of wheat and an estimated 500 bags of weeds!  This will be weighed to determine production, and diversity (number of different weed species) will be assessed.

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The biomass bags were temporarily stored in my office until we could find enough shelf space in the lab.

At the end of July, we also collected our final soil samples, which required over 500 grams of aseptically collected of soil in each subplot.  With the extremely dry, clay-containing soil on the farm, this was no quick undertaking, and it took 6-7 lab members a total of 9 hours to collect all 108 samples!  Those soil samples will be used for DNA sequencing to determine what microorganisms are present, and compared to other time points to see how they changed over the summer in response to our treatment conditions.  The soil will also be measured for essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and carbon content, and saved to be used in a greenhouse experiment to look at the legacy effects of microbial change.

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The samples might be collected, but we aren’t done yet.  This was year one of a two-year project, and as winter wheat and cheatgrass need to be sown soon, before it gets cold, we have a lot of prep work to do.  This includes resetting our data collection tools, including gypsum blocks for soil moisture and ibuttons for soil temperature.  We will also need to set up our climate chamber equipment in all new subplots, since we are interested in third-year winter wheat that is part of a five-year crop rotation.  We also plan to start a greenhouse experiment looking at the legacy effects of our soil this fall.  Not to mention all of data to analyze over the winter months!

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